June 27, 2009

Trawling for info.

There's a theory of business management (now there's an oxymoron) that talks about viewing things in different frames, or angles. I guess from time immemorial we've recognised at some level that the solution to many intractable problems is to "walk a fortnight in the other man's moccasins"; now you can pay $5k and go to a management seminar to hear it. Yay.

I've been trawling the 'net lately, and there's a lot of trolling going on. It seems to me there's another way of looking at these "pimps of the internet". Maybe they're just people with learning difficulties. Invariably, the complaint comes back to "It's too hard". The more altruistic will make that claim on behalf of their grandmothers/ girlfriends (most of whom are possibly not half as stupid as they're made out to be).

They do have a point though. Some aspects of computing are not as simple as they could be; for example, typing. When I was a lad, it was a subject you could take a university- recognised qualification in. People went to school and learnt it. They still do! So why, in this day and age, do we hang on to an archaic input method that divides the population into the cultured and the savage? Sure, anyone can pick up a keyboard and peck at it, but saying that's universal access is like putting the only international postbox for the USA in Washington DC- after all, everyone can get there, can't they? There should be a universally accessible method for input that doesn't have such a learning curve attached.

Second, while Linux isn't the black box of other operating systems, there is a steep curve learning just the basics. The man pages go a long way toward openness; however, they can easily turn into a vicious circle where to know one term you have to know what term b means, which requires term a ... or, more likely, the documentation simply isn't out. HAL is an excellent case in point. It's become the default manager for all input devices in the last 12 months. However, I'm yet to find a clear, comprehensive and concise manual aimed at the end user.

The documentation isn't exactly jumping out at you in Linux installs either. Until you find out that packages can be downloaded to /usr/share/doc, that you have to go through a package manager to get them at all, and how to find your way through the unindexed mass of data that ends up there, it's all useless information. As a rule, man pages are good, but they can easily tend to the esoteric or the overbrief just as well. And, if you weren't sure where to look already, there's another option on the Ubuntu menu system that doesn't seem to use either of those. Then, just for completeness, you can go online.

Once there: well, wiki's are anything from mediocre to good, but they follow the experience of frazzled users, instead of lighting their way. Information is usually patchy, and the person who wrote it has made an individual assessment of what's important, and written it for those problems. Google is sometimes your friend, but sometimes your enemy - information can easily be out of date (try searching on changing keyboard mapping and see how often xorg.conf gets a mention), if not frankly wrong (Wikipedia on ODF and OOXML, anyone?).

Finally, don't get me wrong. Having all the info out there is GREAT!. I'm an information magnet- take it anywhere I can get it. One of the beautiful things about this OS is the availability of all that stuff, no questions asked. You won't see it on any other OS. But, like the saying goes, can we make access to the right stuff as simple as possible (just no simpler)?


PS where did the "Paste from WORD" come from on this page????

Click Here!